Last weekend I concluded our “Church 2.0” series on core values with a message about living a life of intentional mission. Individual Christ-followers are called to a life on mission. Churches, as communities of individual Christ-followers, are called to be on mission, too.
I chose as my text 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. The Thessalonian church was birthed in the midst of opposition. Acts 17, which tells the story of how the church began, describes Paul’s opposition as rounding up a few “bad characters” who chased Paul out of town. Bad characters have been chasing preachers out of town ever since!
1 and 2 Thessalonians are two letters that Paul writes to the church he had helped establish to encourage and instruct them. As you read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, you quickly discover that this is a church that is living on mission.
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” — 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7
This church, which started in a hostile environment and had its first pastor chased out of town, had become a model church for other churches.
What kind of model had it become?
Undoubtedly, the Thessalonian church had become a model to other churches that were facing suffering and persecutions. Thessalonica was no small town. Most estimates place the population in the first century at around 200,000 people. It would have been easy for this new church to feel incredibly overwhelmed. Yet, they remained faithful and true to Jesus and to their mission.
Paul later tells us that the message of the gospel “rang out” (literally, boomed like thunder) from them and that their reputation for faithfulness had spread across the region.
We still need model churches today, not for their styles or strategies but for their ability to encourage and inspire other churches. It is increasingly rare for large, healthy churches to assume a responsibility for their region. Most small to medium sized churches are not even on their radar. We get consumed with meeting our own budgets and stay busy attending to the multitude of needs that exist within our own church and we forget that we are part of a larger kingdom.
Growing churches have the unique ability (and opportunity) to bless small, struggling churches. One church, no matter how large, will never reach a majority of a metropolitan area — by itself. But by being a generous and selfless church, one church can enable other churches to reach people in their own neighborhoods.
Pastors, when you think big, think big outside your church, too. Don’t jump from your backyard to overseas and miss opportunities to be a blessing much closer to home.